Rare 1950s Braille globe to be digitised for new generation

Posted October 16, 2017 13:25:12

A project has been launched to save an intricate Braille globe invented in Queensland in the 1950s — and share the story of the “fairy godfather of blind children” behind it.

Richard Frank Tunley’s invention opened up the map of the world to blind and vision-impaired children.

It allows them to “understand the place of our planet, understand the size and shape of the countries and oceans, and use Braille to help their way around it”, State Library of Queensland spokeswoman Margaret Warren told ABC Brisbane’s Terri Begley.

The globe is made of wood and aluminium with Braille letters punched into the aluminium, and includes several accompanying plates providing contextual information and instructions on how to use the globe.

“The different continents are raised a little bit so a person with vision impairment can feel the shape of the continents,” Ms Warren said.

“The countries and continents are named in Braille.

“It was very much still in the Commonwealth, the Empire phase, [so] most of the trails around the globe come from the United Kingdom.

“A child who wanted to understand where Australia was in relationship with Britain would run their fingers over these raised dots read the Braille, and work their way around the globe to find their way through the Panama Canal, over the Pacific Ocean and then down eventually to Australia.”

Modern technology to share globe with new generation

At the time, Tunley’s invention was a significant step forward for vision-impaired children.

In Queensland, education was not compulsory for blind and deaf children until 1924, and Tunley was instrumental in lobbying the Government to make that change.

Tunley dedicated much of his life to improving the lives of deaf and blind children, particularly through education.

In addition to the globe, Tunley created maps, models, toys, and games, but his name remains relatively unknown and there are very few Tunley globes left in the world.

Just one frail globe remains in Brisbane, where it is held in the State Library.

Ms Warren and her colleagues hope modern technology can help them change that, so the globe can once again be used as a learning tool.

With money provided by a Queensland Library Foundation crowd-funding initiative, the State Library will use photogrammetry and 3D printing technologies to render the globe as a 3D plan.

Ms Warren said the plan would be made publicly available for anyone to print in 3D and touch — exactly the same way Tunley intended the original globe to be experienced.

The original Tunley globe will also appear at the State Library later this year in an exhibition looking at inventions and innovations from Queensland.

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, geography-education, disabilities, education, brisbane-4000

Captain Cook’s Hawaiian cape on display after 120 years in storage

Posted October 13, 2017 13:13:48

A famed feather cape gifted by a Hawaiian chief to Captain Cook on his fateful final voyage has been put on display at Sydney’s Australian Museum after more than a century in storage.

The cape — or ‘ahu’ula — was given to Cook in 1778 or 1779 and has been part of the museum’s collection since 1894.

It was supposed to provide physical and spiritual protection to those who donned it, however, that did not prove true for the explorer, who was killed by Hawaiians in February 1779.

And it has now been unveiled as part of the museum’s 200 Treasures exhibition.

Other artefacts on display include the body of a Tasmanian tiger, a prehistoric Irish elk skeleton and a 10 kilogram gold nugget discovered during the Gold Rush.

Despite being part of the museum’s collection for more than a century, Cook’s cape has seldom been seen by visitors, apart from during a brief appearance in 2015.

However it now has a permanent home.

The heritage-listed gallery itself is also being hailed as a unique treasure.

After almost two years of restoration, conservation, and design at a cost of $9 million, the Long Gallery at the Australian Museum will finally reopen to the public.

Exhibition Designer Aaron Maestri said reviving the gallery, built between 1846 and 1855, was full of challenges.

“There are so many things that are a little bit out, or a lot out, or things that I would just like to replace but you can’t because they are heritage,” Mr Maestri said.

“Being sensitive to heritage requirements is really important and worthwhile but can also be a big difficulty.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the exhibition would be an excellent addition to NSW’s arts and culture facilities.

“The Australian Museum, the first museum in the nation, has an unrivalled collection … I commend everyone involved in bringing such a remarkable gallery and exhibition to the people of Australia,” she said.

The gallery will house the 200 Treasures exhibition which shows off some of the fossils, scientific specimens and Indigenous artefacts amassed by the nation’s oldest natural history museum.

It also recognises 100 people who have helped shape the nation through contributions to history, science, nature or culture.

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, history, art-history, community-and-society, arts-and-entertainment, sydney-2000

Meteorite worth $100,000 proves priceless to Queensland scientists

Posted October 13, 2017 08:00:00

It is believed to be one of only five in the world and has been valued at $100,000, but a meteorite recently acquired by the Queensland Museum is already proving invaluable to scientists.

The meteorite weighs more than 15 kilograms and is so valuable that it is being held under lock-and-key in a secret location on the northside of Brisbane.

The mass may not look like much from the outside, but luckily the pair who found it while fossicking for gold in northern Queensland realised its value, Queensland Museum mineralogist Andrew Christy said.

“They picked up a large metal mass that was buried — it wasn’t on the surface — about a metre down,” he told ABC Brisbane’s Terri Begley.

“They dug it up, found it was rusty and hence very full of iron — and not a gold nugget like they were hoping for, but probably a meteorite — and brought it into the museum for us to validate.”

Meteorite likely came from the asteroid belt

But it was not apparent just how special the meteorite was until the end was sawed off to reveal a stunning cross-section of metal.

“I was expecting to see solid steely metal, but instead we have this beautiful pattern of finger-y, almost staghorn-coral-like metal crystals,” Dr Christy said.

“[It’s] all very silvery, made out of nickel iron alloy, which are embedded in a bronze-coloured brittle matrix of an iron sulphide mineral called troilite.

“This is quite unusual because most of the iron meteorites that I’ve found are just solid metal.”

Valued at $100,000, the Queensland Museum purchased the meteorite from the discovers with the help of a $50,000 grant from the Federal Government’s National Cultural Heritage Account.

Dr Christy said the meteorite likely came from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

“There are lots of much smaller objects — the biggest are only about 1,000 kilometres across — which haven’t gone together to make bigger planets,” he said.

“Some of them have metal cores, like little mini versions of the Earth, and if you gradually blast off through impact all the rock covering that core, eventually you can get chunks of core out.

“Metal meteorites are, we think, little chunks of cores.”

He said the pattern on this particular meteorite indicated it may have come from “the very, very edge of the core, where it was contacting this sulphide material”.

It was the first of this kind of meteorite to be discovered in Australia, and is believed to be the largest of the five known specimens worldwide.

Specimen could help us understand how Earth formed

The museum’s acting chief executive Jim Thompson said meteorites were especially rich in scientific value and Dr Christy is already analysing the specimen using machines like electron microscopes.

“We have much higher magnification images from those that show all these complex and beautiful textures of different minerals and metal alloys … right down to one-thousandth-of-a-millimetre scales,” he said.

“We’ve got chemical analyses and I’ll be weaving those together into a story that might tell us how slowly this thing cooled down from the molten state [and] how different chemical elements distribute themselves between all the different minerals that are in there.”

He said work like this could eventually improve our understanding of how planets like Earth formed.

Part of the meteorite has been on display in the Queensland Museum and is currently in Toowoomba.

It will also travel to Townsville and Ipswich for members of the public to view.

Topics: science-and-technology, earth-sciences, astronomy-space, geology, library-museum-and-gallery, brisbane-4000

Is the school library a thing of the past?

Posted September 25, 2017 14:55:25

Bestselling author and Australian Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs is on a mission to save school libraries from “disappearing”.

Mr Hobbs is best known for his Horrible Harriet and Old Tom children’s book series and said despite living in the digital age, libraries and librarians were essential for schools.

“I’ve got a real view about bureaucrats and politicians talking about literacy all the time, and at the same time libraries and librarians are disappearing, sort of seemingly one after another,” he told News Breakfast.

“The problem with that is that parents don’t know about it, because teachers aren’t allowed to write letters to the paper.”

Mr Hobbs is the current Australian Children’s Laureate — a position appointed by the non-profit Children’s Literature Alliance to promote reading and literacy — and has been touring the country visiting schools and libraries.

He acknowledged the rise in digital resources presented a handy alternative to some physical books, but said librarians had expertise that could not be replicated online.

“They fulfil a very important role. Like teaching kids how to research and all these literacy skills,” he said.

Exact figures on the number of teacher librarian roles remaining in Australia — and what these roles look like — are hard to come by.

A 2010 Federal Government inquiry into school libraries concluded there was a “fundamental need to collate some hard data to ascertain how many teacher librarians there are in Australia’s primary and secondary schools”.

“It is indisputable that the value of teacher librarians’ work has been eroded over the years and undervalued by many in the community,” the inquiry also found.

For those in the business, the trend towards downsizing or closing school libraries is clear.

Rick Susman set up the Booklegger company in 1978 to sell non-fiction books to school libraries, and in June this year finally made the call to shut down the distribution business. He will now focus on digital subscription services.

“Six years ago I was selling $1.25 million worth of print books — that’s non-fiction reference books — into school libraries around Australia,” he said.

“Last financial year it was $100,000.

“That’s a 93 per cent drop in five or six years.”

Mr Susman said when he first started Booklegger 39 years ago, every primary school in Victoria had a teacher librarian, but times had changed significantly.

“There are schools, including private schools, where there’s no commitment to a library at all and where schools have just hived off responsibility and said, ‘Oh we’ll just put a whole lot of books in classrooms’,” he said.

Australian company Softlink provides library management systems and for the past seven years has also conducted research into school libraries and their relation to literacy rates.

Its 2016 report echoes the findings of the 2010 Government report that there appears to be a link between library funding and literacy achievement.

“The 2016 findings continue to indicate a relationship between well-funded and well-staffed libraries and student achievement,” Softlink found.

“The findings show, once again, a correlation between high NAPLAN literacy results and a well-resourced library.”

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, education, australia

Volunteers rescue thousands of books from Mosul library destroyed by IS

Posted September 15, 2017 19:16:27

It was a reading festival. But this is Mosul, and until a few months ago it was crawling with Islamic State militants.

They occupied the city’s university library, where last week festival-goers celebrated a rich culture and donated books.

The volunteer effort to save what was left of Mosul University library after it was destroyed by IS has renewed hope for the city after more than two years of occupation.

The library once contained hundreds of thousands of ancient documents, including a ninth-century Koran, before it was burned down in a deliberate attempt to erase culture.

But Mosul local and amateur photographer Ali ِAl-Baroodi, who once taught at the university, has led a community campaign to restore what remained of the library’s collection.

“At the beginning when we went by the library, we couldn’t hold back our tears, and we thought it was all over,” Mr Al-Baroodi said.

“We thought nothing survived from inside the library. Then we found that some books have survived and some of them are old manuscripts from 100 to 200 years ago.

“So we could save 86,000 books and removed 36,000 surviving beautiful books to a safer place. It was a big accomplishment.”

For now, a temporary location has been set up to house the recovered collection, with more books being sent in from foreign donors.

“Now there is a substitute location. It’s not operating unfortunately, it’s not operating right now because of the lack of shelves, the lack of a lot of things,” Mr Al-Baroodi said.

“A lot of institutes, including the Minister of Culture in Italy and Marcello Lippi — the famous Italian football coach — they all made campaigns to send books to Mosul.

“We are receiving a lot of books from Italy, from France, from the United Kingdom, from Canada, from the United States. So it’s always a pleasure to know that we are not alone in this.”

Book festival was ‘biggest event since ISIS’

Last week’s reading festival was the culmination of the volunteers’ efforts, and was attended by thousands on the grounds of the university.

A celebration of books and reading, music and poetry, Mr Al-Baroodi said the event just months after the city’s liberation was proof of the resilience of the Iraqi people and culture.

“We expected a couple hundred people, but it was a big surprise to find no less than 3,000 to 4,000 people. We couldn’t count because the audience was so huge,” he said.

“People are so hopeful despite all the odds, despite all the hard circumstances. In the beginning we didn’t have water, we didn’t have electricity. We had to dig for water to use well water.”

Mr Al-Baroodi said he was overcome with emotion at the sight of cultural life returning to his city, which just months previously was a battle zone.

“In fact I felt speechless because nobody at all, nothing in the whole world expected this city to come from the ashes in this way,” he said.

“Publishing houses did not only send books and donations for the festival, but heads of festivals, university chancellors attended. In fact it was the biggest event since ISIS.

“Fortunately in the eastern side of Mosul where I live, life is almost back to old days. Water is back, the electricity is back. But unfortunately on the western side of Mosul, it’s still a tragedy.”

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, unrest-conflict-and-war, islam, iraq

Peacekeeping memorial opens in Canberra

Updated September 14, 2017 12:57:59

A new memorial honouring Australia’s international peacekeeping operations has been officially opened in Canberra this morning.

Volunteers, veterans and supporters began work to create the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial on Anzac Parade 12 years ago.

The memorial features two large black polished concrete monoliths separated by a passageway, as well as a courtyard of reflection.

“As you move through the memorial monoliths through a passageway of light, the idea is the peacekeepers are keeping apart the warring forces and providing the hope,” planning committee chairman Major General Tim Ford said.

The courtyard contains statements in bronze listing Australia’s peacekeeping missions, as well as bronze descriptions of the characteristics of peacekeepers.

The memorial honours the service and sacrifice of more than 80,000 military, police and civilian peacekeepers who served in 62 missions over the past 70 years.

“Many have been injured and traumatised by what they have had to put up with … in very difficult and dangerous situations,” he said.

“We are very much wanting to recognise, not just the peacekeepers, but the families and their supporters.”

Major General Ford said securing $4 million to complete the major sculpture proved the greatest challenge.

“The Australian community really didn’t recognise and understand the great work that was being done by peacekeepers around the world,” he said.

Now retired, he commanded a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in the Middle East from 1998 to 2000 and was also the military adviser in UN Headquarters under former boss Kofi Annan.

“We have actually been in many more conflicts as peacekeepers than we have actually as combatants,” Major General Ford said.

“It is an important message for the Australian community to understand that international peace and security is not just about fighting the last minute and then having to decide whether you are going to commit armed forces.”

In the service of peace

In his dedication of the new Australian Peacekeeping Memorial, Governor-General Peter Cosgrove praised peacekeepers’ sacrifice, humanity and compassion in protecting the vulnerable and the dispossessed.

“It seems part of the human condition to want it with every fibre of our being, but never to attain perfect peace,” he said.

“In their blue berets, peacekeepers are a symbol of hope. They save lives and change lives, they restore order and bring security and stability.

“Peacekeepers do all this not in the name of conquest or self aggrandisement, nor in the name of parochial national self-interest. They do it, in the name of compassion and humanity. In the name of what is right.”

Topics: unrest-conflict-and-war, library-museum-and-gallery, canberra-2600, australia, act

First posted September 14, 2017 12:51:14

The value of reading can’t be calculated by a standardised test

Posted September 14, 2017 07:30:00

Reading rewrites the world. It also makes it more likely you can shape that world — not only via the basic benefits of literacy, but also through compassion, imagination, creativity and knowledge.

The research is in, and it shows that reading has an impact on learning across all areas, as well as on cognitive ability, and that it is valued for its social and cultural functions.

Reading allows insight, analysis, history, story. It’s often equated with escape, but I’m not sure I buy that. The right book opens up possibility, knowledge, experience and empathy, rather than removal from it.

Perhaps it’s an escape towards something, rather than an escape from it — an experience familiar to the Pakistani English writer Kamila Shamsie, who was longlisted for the Man Booker prize this year for her harsh and beautiful novel Home Fire.

She said that growing up in Karachi under a military dictatorship, reading brought her the world.

“I was learning the world and being in different places,” she said.

“Reading means your life is never circumscribed by your own experiences.”

Making time to read

Of course, having a life in which reading can have a central place is still a privilege — you need access to libraries, bookshops, bookshelves.

The latest survey of Australia’s reading habits, undertaken by Macquarie University, shows that reading is both highly valued and one of the most highly rated of all “leisure activities”.

Leisure? Let’s say instead that reading is an activity that requires time, because it’s not necessarily “relaxing” or a “hobby”.

It can be urgent, necessary, central to the processing of information and acquisition of knowledge. It can be painful and confronting and lead to tears or unbecoming snorts of laughter on the bus.

And given that the most popular fiction genre in Australia is crime and thrillers, it can also increase your heartrate and anxiety levels considerably.

Reading can also shape and make bearable — or productive — the in-between places.

On public transport; backstage; at the side of a sports game; next to a broken-down car; at a hospital bedside; or in the hospital bed yourself, when you’re at risk of being entirely subsumed by the drama and pain of the place: aaargh, a book.

Benefits beyond the exam hall

I know I’m not the only one who panics if there’s nothing to read.

And the evidence is in: when it comes to children, demonstrating that reading is valued has an impact on reading patterns.

Reading with children and reading to them is valuable long after the first acquisition stage, as researchers like Margaret Merga have demonstrated.

And yet this (important) focus on the early stage of reading — learning to do it — has meant that reading as an adult activity is often not scrutinised or studied in the same way. Why do some people remain “avid readers” (as we’re called in the literature)? And why does it matter?

There are many ways to approach reading that go beyond making sense of how words fit together on a page or screen.

Culturally, as Reading Hour ambassadors and authors Mem Fox and Tom Keneally argue, reading can tell us something about who we are and why certain stories matter to us.

But more importantly, Fox says, reading is a great pleasure.

“If people don’t like reading, they’re reading the wrong book,” she said.

“It is heaven. That’s the message that I want to get across. It is just heaven … Remember what it was like when you last read — it was divine. Do it again.”

For Keneally, reading is an activity he simply cannot do without.

“I like to read just about anywhere … there’s nowhere I don’t read,” he said.

Elevating the status of reading

Reading also encourages creativity and the imagination.

As a practice, it’s flexible — and I don’t just mean the divisive question of whether it’s ever OK to fold over the edge of a page.

It gives space for solitude, but can also be a force for cohesion and collaboration, for discussion and book clubs and shared reading.

And if you want someone else to read your words one day? Listen to other writers. Read, they say.

“Read and read and read,” is Colum McCann’s advice. “Adventurously. Promiscuously. Unfailingly.”

We need to ensure that reading isn’t a precarious pastime, as the educational researcher Dr Merga argues. It needs to be supported properly, whether by making sure libraries are properly resourced or by giving reading a status beyond standardised tests.

Critical reading, too, is a defence against “fake news” and the many electronic scams that come our way, along with the torrent of words that is the online world.

Today writers, publishers and libraries are encouraging Australians to stop for an hour and read. Just read. It’s called the Australian Reading Hour.

What will you pick up?

Topics: books-literature, education, library-museum-and-gallery, schools, english-literature, australia